A friend who recommends you books that you love is a rare and valuable friend. I am lucky to have such friends, who tell me what to read, and rarely lead me astray. I came to To The Bridge by Nancy Rommelmann through one of these friends, my book recommending savant Heather John Fogarty. Heather told me about the book months before it came out, even before I had created The Stacks. She knew it was my kind of book. So once I decided to start the podcast, it seemed obvious Heather would be a guest and we would discuss it for The Stacks Book Club. That episode is out now, and you can listen to it here.
Here is more about To The Bridge
On May 23, 2009, Amanda Stott-Smith drove to the middle of the Sellwood Bridge in Portland, Oregon, and dropped her two children into the Willamette River. Forty minutes later, rescuers found the body of four-year-old Eldon. Miraculously, his seven-year-old sister, Trinity, was saved. As the public cried out for blood, Amanda was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to thirty-five years in prison.
Embarking on a seven-year quest for the truth, Rommelmann traced the roots of Amanda’s fury and desperation through thousands of pages of records, withheld documents, meetings with lawyers and convicts, and interviews with friends and family who felt shocked, confused, and emotionally swindled by a woman whose entire life was now defined by an unspeakable crime. At the heart of that crime: a tempestuous marriage, a family on the fast track to self-destruction, and a myriad of secrets and lies as dark and turbulent as the Willamette River.
Nancy Rommelmann has crafted a layered and nuanced book with To The Bridge. She never falls into the trap of trying to make the book easy or clear. She presents her investigation and trusts that we, the readers, are smart enough to draw our own conclusions. For me, the conclusions were less obvious than I would have hoped, they were complex and often times contradictory, they came out of the work Rommelmann had done.
Where this book soars is in Rommelmann’s ability to sift through all the information she’d gathered. She is our guide into the world of this toxic relationship, between Amanda Stott-Smith and her estranged husband Jason Smith, and while she is somewhat objective, she also becomes a subject of her own writing. She is a character in this book. At first Rommelmann’s pressence in the book threw me off, I was not excited about author and subject in a non-memoir type of true crime book. However in the end it didn’t bother me at all. I maybe even liked it a little, it helped me to understand this rocky landscape more clearly.
This is one of those books that you think you know how it is going to go, and if I’m being honest nothing really surprised me. Sure, there were details I didn’t guess, but mostly the story of sociopaths follows a pattern and this book just highlights those patterns. We all know that something is wrong if a mother is killing her children. However in To The Bridge we are not forced to read a sensational account of the events that led Stott-Smith to the bridge. Instead Rommelmann affords her subjects dignity and autonomy, and ultimately asks us to hold them accountable.
There are certainly things I wished would have been presented more expressly in the book. I would have appreciated if Rommelmann gave me the answers. I would have loved to know exactly what Amanda was thinking when she dropped her kids off the Sellwood bridge that night. But, To The Bridge can not definitively answer that question for me. I don’t even know is Amanda herself could answer for certain. What I respect about this book is that Rommelmann investigates to try to find out why, and then she shows us her work. She doesn’t shy away from the messy realities of the toxicity of Amanda and Jason’s marriage and she doesn’t let those around them off the hook for their complacency. I would love final answers, but that is not how life works. Things can get complicated, and this book leans into that complexity, it doesn’t attempt to smooth ir out.
If you like investigative journalism, if you like uncovering the story beneath the story, then this is a book for you. It moves fast, and is an easy read even though the subject matter is anything but. If you are a sensitive reader or are triggered by domestic abuse and child abuse then I would suggest you prepare yourself for this book, or set it aside for another time.
- Hardcover: 303 pages
- Publisher: Little A (July 1, 2018)
- 4/5 stars
- Buy on To The Bridge Amazon
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